Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why I Could Not Watch More than 15 Minutes of Trainwreck

The summer film season brought the film debut of Amy Schumer. Schumer's devoted followers have been exhaustively thumbing through their thesauruses to offer their smut goddess the most flamboyant of praise. Todd Aaron Jensen of the Biography website wrote,
Some audiences get so hung up on the jokes about teabagging, crabs and, uh, spear fishing for doo-doo sharks that they fail to identify the catharsis of mining the pain and awkwardness that gives birth to a lot of that brand of humor. . . If, as the 19th century nursery rhyme makes abundantly clear, most girls are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice, then Amy Schumer might not be like other girls.  It’s not that the 34-year old Schumer – the Emmy-nominated bawdy brain trust and filthy fox behind Comedy Central’s smash hit series, Inside Amy Schumer, and writer/star of this summer’s sweet and salty box office triumph, Trainwreck – is made of snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails, like the XY set among us. She just furrows her own flamboyant footpath, a beacon of blueness, a lioness of lewdness, a fulmination of feculence, a kingpin of vulgarity on the cultural landscape, the unwitting, bewitching artiste behind what’s widely referred to as ‘the most feminist show on TV’. . .  [S]he actually possesses a zany, irrepressible knack for rhapsodizing in blue, riffing mellifluously on fur burgers and purple-headed womb brooms, ranting, blustering, and straggling her way through the modern world as empowered nymph, libidinous lass, and ingenious ingénue.  If every generation gets the hero it deserves, then it’s clearly Schumer’s moment to charm and intoxicate an entire epoch of fanboys, townies, and urban betties.
I have seen Trainwreck described in a single review as "hilariously boozy," "proudly profane" and "deliriously dirty."  The author of that review, Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty, praised the film for being "one of the freshest and filthiest coming-out parties."  Nashawaty made it clear that he was not at all off-put by Schumer’s "prickly persona" in the film.  Nashawaty found appeal in Schumer's character, who he described as an "irresponsible good-time gal" who "hook[s] up with sketchy guys and totter[s] home in heels while shielding daylight from her bloodshot eyes."  He concluded, "[Schumer's] created a decidedly new kind of screwball heroine - one who isn't ashamed of screwing, or screwing up."  Bad behavior with no regrets and no apologizes is intolerably annoying behavior.

My article today is not so much a review of the film as it is a review of the craze that has developed around the film.  I could walk out on the film after 15 minutes, but I regret to say that that I am unable to walk out on the craze.  The praise for Schumer within social media and the entertainment media is something that cannot be avoided.  It is important to note that people were praising this film to high heavens when all they had to see was the trailer.  Pre-love of a film is, in the purest sense, unconditional love.  No matter what you produce, say these fans, I will blindly adore it.  A man on my Facebook page surmised that these critics wrote their worshipful reviews before they even saw the film, kept the review on hold in their email queue, and waited for the film to be released to finally press the "Send" button.  So, if the fans can praise the film based on the trailer, I can criticize the film based on the opening 15 minutes.

So, what else do Schumer's followers have to say?

Cath Clarke of Time Out wrote, "You forget how limited so many movies' ideas of women are until Schumer launches into an extended tampon joke.  It's a film about everyday sexism and double standards."

Christopher Orr of The Atlantic wrote, "This is a film that belongs not to its director but to its star, who, if there is any justice in the world, is about to ascend from cult icon to mass phenomenon."

Sean Means of Salt Lake Tribune wrote, "If you didn't already know Amy Schumer is the funniest and most fearless comedian working today, her raucously funny Trainwreck will educate you."

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "Sweet is not how Schumer wants Trainwreck to go down. She wants to explode rom-com clichés and replace them with something fierce and ready to rumble.  Done."

Wow, this is a religious movement and a political movement combined.

The critics have hailed the film as a feminist manifesto.  The film has been called smart and sly for the way it reverses gender stereotypes.  To start, a manifesto does not make a good comedy film.  Second, comedy films have been reversing gender stereotypes for more than a hundred years.  It’s nothing particularly clever or unique.  

To be honest, I do not entirely understand Schumer's advocates.  They speak in a bizarre new language.  Andrew O'Hehir of Salon wrote, "People are at liberty to think she’s not funny, of course, or to suggest that any particular Schumer assault on the great shibboleths of race and sex and gender is poorly calibrated.  But they are always in grave danger of being rendered utterly foolish by the deep Socratic game of Schumer’s blond, bland, slutty persona, by her shrewd performance of cluelessness."  I have no idea what that means.  Is O’Hehir saying that Schumer is only pretending to be drunk and fall down to elicit critical thinking?     
Erin Free of Film Ink described the film as "deeply humanist."  Ms. Free, herself, hardly is one to advocate the humanist philosophy.  She opened her review looking for blood.  "Unbelievably," she wrote, "there are still a few imbeciles out there who actually think that women are incapable of being funny. . ."  Calm down, comedy is not war.

Christy Lemire of Roger describes Schumer as "slyly deadpan."  That is true, but I am not sure if this deadpan act works well for Schumer.  Bob Newhart is deadpan.  Deadpan works better on the small screen than the big screen.  Schumer needed to do more to dominate the film.  It is hardly a strong debut when every goofy actor who walks on screen upstages her.  I didn't laugh at Schumer, but I did laugh at this actor. . .

and this actor. . .

and this actor.

Schumer is praised for her fearlessness in attacking taboos.  But nothing is commendable about Schumer’s cheap and lazy Tourette Syndrome-style shock comedy.  Jokes about "purple-headed womb brooms" are nothing more than dick jokes.  Jokes about "doo-doo sharks" are nothing more than crap jokes.  I am obviously not the target audience for Schumer as I do not need a catharsis to relieve me of a crabs anxiety.  It is fine if Schumer wants to corner the market on the crabs audience, but it hardly makes her a goddess of comedy.  Tampon jokes do not make you fierce and fearless.  They make you gross.  If Andrew Dice Clay wasn’t hailed as a genius for his abundant dick jokes, then it doesn’t make sense to hail Schumer as a genius for her dick jokes.  The word "fearless" has become overused by media commentators.  It is not fearless to reduce the human experience to sex organs, bodily fluids, and tampons.

The director, Judd Apatow, has so little faith in his characters having anything interesting to say to one another that he has to set up a conversation with the characters in bathroom stalls, which is supposed to provoke uncontrollable gales of laughter from the audience.  The little that I saw of the film leads me to believe that, in its conception and execution, the entire film resides in one big bathroom stall.

Let me tell you the scene that got me to give up on Trainwreck.  Two sisters find an old photo of their late mother.  Imagine this is a photo of your own mother.  What memories would it bring back?

All Schumer can think to say is, "Mom was so fuckable then.  She had the best tits.  When she would lay down, they would just stay put."  Reducing motherhood to a firm and fuckable body is the ultimate objectification of a woman.  How does that make Schumer charming, fearless or foxy?  I could accept this if it was an isolated joke.  Maybe, it is too painful to express her deeper feelings about her late mother.  But this type of sex talk is all that we get from Schumer.  It becomes grating after a while.

It isn't just that Schumer's character is promiscuous that bothers me.  She is drunk and promiscuous, which is a condition that can lead to serious consequences.  Schumer's character is not seen to be making a clear, free and responsible choice to have sex.  She falls into bed recklessly and compulsively.  She is not even seen deriving much pleasure or relief from the sex act.  Apatow is irresponsible to celebrate this sort of bad-girl shtick.  The filmmaker suggests that an amusing mix is to be found in booze, banging and blackouts.  Yet, this is the same person who has expressed his total disgust of booze, banging and blackouts in context of the Cosby scandal. 

A person with an unhealthy fixation on sex is not funny.  This sort of person is juvenile and creepy.  I could find a comedy film engrossing if it provided a frank discussion of sexual issues.  But Trainwreck is not Carnal Knowledge.  It is not even American Pie.  It presents irresponsibility as a good time and immorality as empowerment.  The fact that Schumer abandons her bad behavior at the film's end has upset the comedian's hardcore fans, who are crying "cop-out."  "In the end," lamented John Wirt of The Acadiana Advocate, “it's just an old-fashioned love story."  Rafer Guzman of Newsday wrote, "Overall, Trainwreck feels less like a reinvention and more like business as usual.  Despite Schumer's subversive instincts, the romantic comedy remains unchanged."  Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail wrote, "[A]fter a period of growth, it all ends in cheers and kisses.  For followers of Schumer’s sacred-cow-slaying TV sketch-comedy series Inside Amy Schumer, this will be tough to swallow: It’s like hearing that Jon Stewart has a secret admiration for Donald Trump. . . Whether you look at Trainwreck as Schumer selling out or buying in, it feels like a compromise."  This great disappointment was expressed best of all by Time Magazine’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, who dismissed the film's final message for being "a little too conservative in insisting that all's square in love and war." I suppose that a less “square” ending would have been Schumer vomiting and shitting herself.

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